Tuesday, 30 June 2015

An interview with Cupco

Since the early noughties Luke Temby, aka Cupco, has been bringing his signature brand of pop art-inspired visuals to audiences around the world, carving out a distinct niche in the increasingly competitive world of designer toys.

His visuals are always cutesy, but tend to incorporate a lot of edgy or even controversial material. It’s an aesthetic that’s not for everyone (Google searches of his work are likely to be NSFW) but has earned him plenty of accolades and a dedicated fanbase over the last few years. 

I’ve come to know him over the last couple of years via my day job as a copywriter, and wanted to interview him for a while – so back in March, we caught up over a drink at Tommy’s Beer CafĂ© in Glebe, to talk about his work. In real life, Cupco is mohawked, bearded and has a decidedly offbeat sense of humour, very much in line with his work. Start a conversation about, say, a movie you just watched and you’ll quickly find yourself drifting into surreal territory like the Japanese pronunciation of dinosaur names or where the aliens are hiding in the universe. But however strange, it’s never dull.


Illustration had been a love for Luke since childhood, but it wasn’t until a stint in Japan that things became more serious. After some freelance work for a number of Asian designer toy companies and a few non-starters (“Pretty sure I blew a potential partnership with kidrobot,” says Luke of that time), he decided to cut out the middleman and take matters into his own hands.

“Things really kicked off around 2001 while I was living in Japan as an English teacher,” he says, taking a sip of the beer in front of him. “The first recognisably “Cupco” doll was a little evil cowboy – a skull head with a cowboy body.”

Things quickly expanded from there, with an additional nine dolls being produced in rapid succession. Most of the specifics of this batch are lost to history – he’s unsure whether they got sold or are still lurking in his garage at home – “But I definitely remember they included Jesus and the devil.”

Since then there’s been several hundred more dolls, covering a huge array of pop culture icons and some decidedly more obscure subjects (including legendary black metal band Immortal). He freely admits that his knack lies with creation rather than commerce.“I’m good at making all of this stuff,” Luke says, “Selling it’s another thing entirely.”

There’s the zines, patches, t-shirts, caps, a couple of vinyl figures (including the Bozwangler) and a plethora of stickers. Looking through Cupco’s work is a dream and a nightmare for any designer toy collector – you’ll see a huge amount of stuff you’d love to own, but the chances are it’s already been snapped up. Or has it?

Luke's garage is full of his works, both finished and unfinished -- including 100+ Bozwanglers all looking for a home -- the good part about this (for new fans in particular) is that new or newly found items pop up periodically at his shows and on his online store. It's a boon in a scene where limited, time-specific launches are the norm and resale prices tend to be obscenely high. But catch him on the right day and you could find an item that hasn’t even made it into circulation yet.    

In my case, I was at an opening night of his residencies in Surry Hills last year and discovered two werewolves amid a pile of semi-finished works. I had to have them – and now they adorn my mancave wall. If you go to one of his shows you'll more than likely find something to be offended by, but also something you have to have. 


By 2011, Cupco's staple doll fare was something of a stale prospect for Luke. With the “Cupco is Dead” exhibition, he signalled the end of his doll production. Of course, since you’re reading this article you’ll know that Cupco’s “death” has not been forever; it’s just taken a slightly different tack over the last few years.
"Severed heads" have been a big thing, with a considerable amount of time devoted to making new and bizarre busts. Pulp comic icon Phantom finds himself sitting atop a demon head, while other long-nosed and floppy-eared creatures gaze out from display shelves. You can view a collection here.

Sequins and beads have been a big interest recently, with Luke exploring a variety of different methods of textile art production, producing a few works well outside of anything that Cupco has produced before. Also on the cards is a giant light-up skull, all based around a balsa-wood frame. 

So why the change? The answer is more shocking than you might realise. 

"There's no special reason," says Luke. "I just go through phases." 

With that, it was time to finish our beers and make our way to our respective homes.  

Luke Temby, aka Cupco, will be undertaking a number of different projects throughout Sydney during the remainder of 2015. 

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

POP! Heroes: White Lantern Batman

Company: Funko
Year: 2015
Series: POP! Heroes

I’ve mentioned before on here that between late 2006 and early 2008 was my prime time for buying comics. It was a good time to join the scene; DC had just undergone a mini-reboot with Infinite Crisis and a few key titles had relaunched at issue #1.

The seeds were being sown for the next company-wide event – Blackest Night. I dipped out of comic collecting for a variety of reasons just prior to its proper beginning, but I’ve read the odd bits and pieces of it in the years that have followed, and it was (like most of these company-wide crossovers) okay but not amazing. The backstory is far too convoluted to get into here, but let’s assume that you’re familiar-ish with Green Lantern. Remember that oath he recites when he’s charging his ring? Specifically, the line about “Blackest Night”? Well, turns out that wasn’t just some ritualistic hyperbole – Blackest Night was a prophecy of a real, and pretty horrific, event to come.   

And so came the era of the “Rainbow Lanterns” – pretty much every colour got its very own Lantern Corps, including the White Lanterns, who arose to save the DC Universe…or something. I’ve got mixed feelings about the story itself, but it did give us a few cool spins on characters – one of them being this White Lantern Batman.

It’s a repaint; as far as I can tell it’s exactly the same Batman that was released back in 2010 (even though the foot is stamped as “2014”), but with a new coat of paint and some glow-in-the-dark moulding. It’s not to my taste as an everyday look for Batman, but it’s an interesting novelty.  
However this novelty should be slightly tempered. Appropriately, given that it’s an old mould, it has some of the “Old Funko” problems too. The eyes are not quite painted properly and there is some overspill of glue on his left leg where it has been glued in. Your mileage will vary according to the figure you get of course, but make sure you check it carefully in the store.

There are currently three White Lantern POPs available – Superman, The Flash and Batman. Wonder Woman is apparently on the way too (as an SDCC Exclusive in both regular and glow in the dark form). Given that it’s a relatively easy repaint, I’d be surprised if we don’t get a few more Rainbow Lanterns in the future.
White Lantern Batman is not essential, but the glow-in-the-dark feature is fun. He doesn’t come highly recommended but he is a cool variant for Batman obsessives.  

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Funko Legacy: Nissa Revane

Company: Funko
Series: Funko Legacy – Magic the Gathering
Year: 2015


Magic: The Gathering. A card game beloved by millions around the world. It’ll steal your free time and even more of your money than Warhammer. I whiled away many hours myself with the game back in mid-high school, but I didn’t have the budget, skill or the inclination to make a more long-term investment in the game.

It’s also inspired quite an in-depth backstory, which I haven’t kept up with since around 1999. This seems to have come to the forefront a lot more over the last few years; there used to be a novel released for just about every set of cards release but now Hasbro has expanded into additional merchandise – including the subject of today’s review, action figures.    


The prototype shots of these guys looked incredible, and the sculpting seems to have made it through to the finished product; Funko have obviously invested a lot of time and effort into translating these characters into 3D. The only real area I don’t like is the back of the hair; it seems a little under-detailed, but that’s not the end of the world.  

Here’s the articulation breakdown:
*ball-jointed neck (totally immobile)
*swivel-hinged shoulders
*bicep swivels
*hinged elbows
*swivel-hinged wrists
*ball-jointed torso
*ball-jointed hips (fairly immobile due to the skirt)
*double-hinged knees
*rocker ankles

There are a few joints that could be added – one at the waist for instance – but it’s perfectly serviceable in terms of articulation. The main issue I had was that one of the knees was warped right of the box, which left quite a sour taste in my mouth. It could probably be straightened out with a hair-dryer though.  


Paint is cleanly executed, but it’s a little flat. Though I understand we’re no longer living in a ToyBiz c.2004-06 era, a few bits of shading and highlighting wouldn’t have gone astray. However, the various tattoos (are they tattoos or warpaint?) are particularly well-executed.   


All things considered, it's a little odd Hasbro didn't just keep production of these figures in-house and re-use a whole bunch of Marvel Legends molds. Nonetheless, I was excited to see how the line from Funko turned out – and did really enjoy the POPs they did based on the same characters – but I think the execution is a little lacking. The warped knee is disappointing, but it’s not a deal-breaker. I can’t quite pinpoint what it is, but I’m left feeling a little underwhelmed by the whole figure, but I think it’s mostly to do with the paint. I’m curious to give another figure from the line a go – especially Garruk – but I’m currently in the once-bitten, twice shy category.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Funko POP! Marvel: Venom

Company: Funko
Series: POP! Marvel 
Year: 2015

If we rewind time back to the early- to mid-1990s, take a trip down to the local newsagent and pick up a comic book, the odds are pretty strong that it will be DARK and EDGY, filled with impossibly muscular men and woman who do SERIOUS THINGS while looking GRIM AND DETERMINED. Not because it really serves the plot, enhances the character or anything like that, but it’s mostly because that’s what the trend was at the time. You thought Batman was dark and brooding in the 70s or the 80s? Well, old man, SPAWN is here and he’s got more inner turmoil and EDGY ARTWORK than a thousand Frank Millers could ever bring to boring old Batman.  

It’s easy to make fun of the “90s edge”, of course, but it did give us some fun comics and some very cool characters – one of them being Venom (even though he debuted in 1988). He has a cast a long shadow over the Spider-Man Universe that very few characters will ever manage to equal. Time has diluted his impact and character design, and he’s been spun-off into a zillion different other symbiotes – but though I’ve never been particularly huge Spider-Man fan, I have a lot of respect for Venom. Which is why I picked up this Funko POP!

I mentioned in my Spider-Man 2099 review that Funko had presumably released that figure to get a new character into circulation with minimum cost. Well, at least some of these cost-savings have been funnelled into Venom – he’s got an elaborate head with sculpted eyes, spiky teeth and protruding tongue. His legs and torso seem to be from the basic Funko body, but the arms and hands are all new – his fingers are long and claw-like, which befits the character’s vicious streak. The regular body just would have done it here.  

The sculpting work is great, but on the downside, paint is likely to be an issue. Venom’s “spider logo” is pretty clean I’ve seen on the three examples I’ve run into in person – but the face is a different story. The mouth, tongue and teeth are likely to have small points of slop that you’ll have to be okay with, but the eyes are a little tricker. Depending on the example you find, they can be pretty good – like the pictured example – but the chances of issues like missing spots or overspray are quite high. Such is the nature of buying POPs. Funko’s improved a lot, but there’s still plenty of room for more improvement. 

Though I don’t think he’s perfect – I always imagine Venom being particularly large in comparison with regular characters, and he’s kind of regular height here – I think he’s turned out pretty darn well. As with Spider-Man 2099, this guy is highly recommended for any Spider-fan and for anyone who likes the 1990s in general.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Funko POP! Universal Monsters: Bride of Frankenstein (glow in the dark variant)

Series: POP! Movies
Year: 2014
RRP: $16.95

Bride of Frankenstein is one of the most critically-acclaimed horror films out there, expanding well beyond its incredibly schlocky origins (“Frankenstein was a hit – make me another!”) to live on in our collective cultural consciousness as an iconic and influential film, perhaps even more so than the original that spawned it.

Its themes have been analysed heavily, probably well beyond any real degree of common sense – is it Christian-themed? Anti-Christian? Is it all about being gay? Director James Whale preferred the company of men in real life, which has naturally fuelled a lot of speculation along the lines of the last theory. Of course, I’ve never actually seen it – or the original Frankenstein, for that matter – so I can’t pretend to shed any real light on the matter (though I do plan to watch both soon; it’s a disgrace that I haven’t already).

But weighty themes aside, there’s one thing that overshadows everything else when it comes to the Bride of Frankenstein – dat hair.  Working with make-up artist Jack Pierce, Elsa Lanchester set a bar for updos and beehives that no one has ever really equalled, though many have tried.  

This POP! replicates that with a remarkably solid piece of plastic, complete with the signature white streaks up the side. As might be expected, the Bride is an entirely new sculpt. Her head is disportionately large, even by Funko standards, mounted on a tiny body. The head comes complete with the scars on the cheeks and under the neck. To ensure she doesn’t overbalance, her dress is one solid piece. The bandaged arms are glued on separately.

All in all, it’s a good likeness, though for me it’s not quite as fun as some of the others in the set have been. I’ve now got every character in this series save for the Phantom of the Opera – and though she’s pretty great, she’s a close contender for least favourite with said Phantom. I’ve never felt a particularly close connection with the creature design; it’s just missing that x-factor for me. Nonetheless, she’s a lot of fun and will make a good addition to any horror collection, Universal or otherwise.  

There are two versions of the Bride available – regular and glow in the dark. As with Frankenstein’s Monster, the Glow in the Dark version looks virtually identical to the “regular” one, so if you have the choice I’d say go for the glow! Her face glows green in the dark -- it's more effective than Frankenstein's glow, but not as good as the more overtly glow-y Creature from the Black Lagoon. 

Marvel Funko POP! Spider-Man 2099

Series: POP! Marvel
Year: 2015
RRP: $16.95AUD

As an adult, I’m much less enamoured of Peter Parker than I was as a kid, but I do enjoy some of his variants and spin-offs. And I’ve been on a real kick of buying Marvel merch for characters I know virtually nothing about, so this Spider-Man 2099 was a total must-have, wasn’t it? To be fair I think I did actually read a Spider-Man 2099 comic somewhere back in the 1990s as a little kid, which is more than I can say about some of the other characters I've bought stuff for *cough* Machine Man *cough*.

The 2099 series was a fun little take on the Marvel Universe that debuted in 1992 – what would the superheroes of the present day look a little more than 100 years hence? What started life as an experiment grew into a mini-universe of its own, though it takes more of a guest role in the comics these days. I’m not really sure of its canon status in the main Marvel Universe, but I get the impression it comes and goes as required for spin-offs/summer crossovers/if the writer feels like it.
Peter Parker was long dead by 2099, so after an accident involving spider genes, a Hispanic guy by the name of Miguel O’Hara took up the mantle, fighting to take down the megacorporations that made life hell for the common man. His new costume incorporated elements of a Day of the Dead costume, which explains the giant skull-spider on his chest.    

Spider-Man 2099 is impressively bare bones – he seems to use the basic Funko body, and doesn’t feature any sculpted detail on his head. I can’t remember the last time I saw one of Funko’s figures look this basic, but I really like it. He’s a fun throwback to the early days of the POP! style, but with greatly improved paint. Though as you might expect, there’s really not a lot of paint on him – he’s cast in blue and details are picked out in dark red, with a couple of “scowl lines” and a nose in black.

His back is totally blank -- it's a little bit of a shame that he doesn't have his traditional "wings" but I suppose this guy was supposed to be a relatively cheap repaint, with new tooling going to (wavemates) Punisher and Venom. 

This guy has been out in the US for a while, so far as I understand, but only seems to have made his way to Australia just now. The retailer I bought from had just received the wave in, with two each of the attendant figures in the wave (though it seems I got the last 2099). The whole wave is Spider-Man themed, featuring the Punisher (who debuted in Spider-Man comic, before you get on your high horse), Venom and Black Suit Spider-Man. It’s a welcome change from the last couple of years; save for the X-Men wave released earlier in 2015, Marvel POPs! have been very heavily dominated by the movie universe for a couple of years. Most of these are great, of course, but it’s good to have some comic-based stuff too. Highly recommended for Spider-fans.  

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Universal Monsters Funko POP! Metaluna Mutant

This Island Earth is a classic piece of 1950s sci-fi. While perhaps not as weighty in tone as other films like The Day the Earth Stood Still, it’s got impressive special effects (for the time) and the fact that it was in colour distinguishes it from many of its competitors.

One of the creatures that has emerged as particularly iconic is the Metaluna Mutant. Seemingly some kind of servitor race for the human-like Metalunans, they don’t actually play a very big role in the film – but have become to be far more associated with the film than any of the much more prominent human characters. And now Funko have released him in their distinctive POP! form.
The design translates across quite well; though the original has some of little intricate details, it tends to be the broader strokes that people remember – the oddly long arms, the claw hands, the oversized brain (which does look an awful lot like a scrotum). Funko has translated it across particularly well here, cutesifying it just enough without compromising the design. 

In his original design, the Mutant was very obviously a man in a suit, and his character design doesn’t hold up so well in a post-Alien world – but to be honest, that’s kind of the thing that makes him so charming today. Things don’t always have to be dark and edgy to capture your attention; just plain weird is fine too. The Metaluna Mutant is another great success from the Universal Monsters line from Funko – essential purchasing for any old-school sci-fi fans.